Digital Disruption & Project Management

Some thoughts on the role of Project Managers in the age of “digital disruption”

New technologies allow us to innovate at record speed. From my vantage point, there are three themes that have manifested themselves from this economic disruption:

  • Accelerating speed to market
  • Personalization of products and services, and
  • Increased access to data & Too much data.

There was this excellent quote from Marc Andreessen in the WSJ (2011):

“…all of the technology required to transform industries through software finally works and can be widely delivered at global scale.”

In other words, the resources and infrastructure needed to start a new billion dollar company (via the Cloud) is widely available to anyone with a credit card and access to the web. Which is practically everyone on Earth (!).

How do I see the role of the Project Manager (PM) in this radical change?

For companies to deliver value to their shareholders and customers, they in turn must embrace creative destruction of “digital disruption” rather than wait to become a victim of this unstoppable force. The creation of products and services, the production of something new is the end result of a group of people or disciplines working together to solve a problem. Project Management is the discipline largely responsible for guiding this effort from start to finish in an efficient manner to achieve the best possible outcomes, i.e. via projects. But Project Managers cannot continue to manage projects the way it was done 50 years ago, 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago.

Some have used the analogy of the Formula One race car, with a PM in the driver seat. I see the role of PMs is one who is to build the right working environment for their teams to work effectively and efficiently together. The PM may not be the F1 driver, but they help the entire team succeed on the race track. This requires establishment of a culture, governance and pace to allow more flexible processes, early engagement with the product or services end-users and laser focus on the customer’s/user’s needs. Yes, there will be more chaos and uncertainty, but I expect good PMs to thrive in environments where they come in and “tame the chaos”. (I know that is what gets me revved up every morning about my work in healthcare IT!)

The impact on the PM profession is that we need to become more empathetic to our customers’ needs, our stakeholders’ needs and our teams’ needs. PMs who follow traditional methods that are closer to command & control will not be successful. PMs will need to allow some level of exploration and allow their teams to take risks and have failures.

Lastly, here is a SlideShre that further captures my thinking:

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